His regime has handed out thousands of weapons to ordinary civilians, saying they would turn Libya into a “living hell” if Nato ground forces invade.
He is also gathering a coterie of young members of his own tribe around him to make a last stand as his regular forces are depleted by defections and Nato bombing.
Anti-Gaddafi activists fear they could unleash a wave of killings and revenge attacks if Col Gaddafi is forced out whether by western military might or negotiations.
“The reason why people are given guns now is because Gaddafi wants it to be chaos whether he is in power or out of power,” said one activist living in a suburb of southern Tripoli.
The regime is playing up the spectre of a wave of vengeance similar to post-2003 Iraq rather than denying it. Moussa Ibrahim, the chief spokesman, said even if there were a negotiated solution opposition leaders like Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council, would be targeted by loyalists.
“Jalil will never be safe in Libya,” he said. “He would be killed, such is the hatred we have for him. He would have to live with permanent security guards.”
Promotion of fanatical and violent Gaddafi loyalists within the armed forces is said to have been one trigger for the defection of five regular army generals who announced their switched loyalties in Rome on Monday.
They said they could no longer tolerate the revenge attacks in rebel towns that this younger generation of officers had overseen.
Col Gaddafi has enforced his rule in recent years by packing the security services with members of his own small tribe, the Gadadfa, and an allied tribe, the Megarha, to which the alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Megrahi belongs.
They themselves have been taught to fear retribution from the rebel side if Col Gaddafi goes.
“There will be chaos here if the colonel goes,” said one loyalist policeman. “We will not let it happen.”
At the time the Nato no-fly zone was imposed, Col Gaddafi said he was issuing a million guns to people across the country. In the days afterwards, journalists were introduced to teenagers and young men proudly brandishing their new Kalashnikov assault rifles.
But the Tripoli activist said that the purpose of the distribution had since become clear. Families applying for weapons had to prove their pro-regime credentials.
Those with identity cards showing they were from areas where there had been anti-Gaddafi demonstrations were automatically refused.
“It is another trick by the regime. They only give weapons to supporters,” he said. “This is what worries us now.”
Fighting has already broken out in some parts of the city, according to several residents, as the once ever-present plain-clothes police have drained away.
A protest in the east Tripoli suburb of Souq al-Juma’a filmed and posted on Youtube on Monday was said by one local dissident to have begun at the funeral of two men killed in a shoot-out at a checkpoint.
Some may be simple criminal activity. A shop-keeper in the old city said many shops, particularly gold and jewellery stores, were shut because they feared robbery.
“There are fights in the street at night,” he said. “The dealers are afraid.”
The air of tension is added to by state television footage repeating claims, some apparently true, of revenge attacks on Gaddafi loyalists, particularly black fighters accused of being mercenaries, captured in eastern Libya.
“If the rebels win they will kill us,” said Joy Badmos, 37, a Nigerian who has lived in Tripoli for 15 years running a family fashion design business. “We have seen on state TV how the rebels are killing Africans”.
What is not clear is whether there is any co-ordinated planning for resistance should Col Gaddafi be forced to leave. But Khaled Kaim, the usually conciliatory deputy foreign minister, gave an indication of a change of mood at the weekend with a fierce attack on the rebels, saying that opposition leaders were “traitors”.
“Those who sided with NATO in attacking their own people, it will be impossible for them,” he said.
Source: The Telegraph